'Chi Yei' Eggplant
'Chi Yei' Eggplant

'Chi Yei' Eggplant

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Solanum melongena

Origin: China

Improvement status: Landrace

Seeds per packet: ~40

Germination tested 11/2023: 77%

Life cycle: Annual

EFN INTRODUCTION. 'Chi Yei' is an early, fast-ripening, delicious eggplant variety from China, which was donated to the USDA collection by the Beijing Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Science in 1979. This is one of the first varieties we chanced on in the government seed bank database (actually looking for another eggplant for William Woys Weaver in this case) and then introduced to gardeners and farmers in the US.

'Chi Yei' can be very productive in fertile soils, with the potential of six or more fruit per plant if they are happy. Fruit are round, almost globe-shaped, with firm flesh and shiny, deep purple skin that is rich in anthocyanins. The stems are also dark purple, and the leaves have a dark tint to them as well, which perhaps explains why these eggplants seem to withstand flea beetle infestations better than others. Plants don't get too big or tall, and seem to put their energy into producing fruit. If you have a really short season and never have any luck with eggplants, give 'Chi Yei' a try!

NOTE: As we've grown this plant through the years, we've noticed more diversity in the population than we had initially seen (when we only did a small grow-out). We've gone back to early lots to make sure it didn't get crossed up along the way, and from those growouts it seems likely there's just some heterogeneity in this variety. Many plants will match the description above, but some will have paler fruits and/or different shapes. At some point, we will request seeds of Chi Yei again from the USDA to make sure there wasn't accidental crossing that first year (when it was isolated by what should have been a safe distance from other eggplants — including Badenjan Sesame — but perhaps not far enough for one intrepid bee!). The photo on this page was an early growout (probably our second or third) and shows one paler fruit in the upper right corner, so there's a good chance the diversity has been there all along, and we just didn't notice until we started doing large growouts. In any event, all the eggplants are delicious! 

GROWING TIPS: Start seeds indoors in March. Plant out in field after danger of last frost. Plants should be 16-24 inches apart in rows that are at least two feet apart.